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Sex and geographic disparities among NIH NSD-A study section members

Purcell, Lindsey
McIntire, Ryan
Volberding, Jennifer
Schnitker, Joseph
Vassar, Matt
Gender and geographic bias among the scientific community disproportionately impact the dispersion of tax payer funding for research. Diversity, equity and inclusion representation is crucial for the evolving U.S. population. Progressing discovery requires development from the next generation of researchers. Therefore, we studied 3 years (2011, 2016, 2021) of rosters at the Neurological Sciences and Disorders Study A (NSD-A) of the National Institute of Health to evaluate the sex and geographic representation. Our team retrieved rosters for the NSD-A NIH study panel for all meetings held in 2011, 2016, and 2021. The study section names, membership type, institution, state, sex, and academic rank were extracted. Study authors used a pilot tested google form for data collection. Sex was determined through web searches and genderize.io (0.6 value required to assign sex). Data was analyzed to detect percentages of male and female study section members and their respective region (using regions defined by the US Census Bureau) of the NSDA study section in 2011, 2016, and 2021. In the years studied, males outnumbered females 2 to 1 or greater, with no detectable trend. The 2011 NSDA study section was comprised of 18 males (67%) and 9 females (33%). 2016 NSDA study section was comprised of 44 males (75%) and 15 females (25%). Lastly, the 2021 NSDA study section was comprised of 32 males (70%) and 14 females (30%). Geographically, regional distributions are represented variably. In 2011, we saw the West and Northeast represented most (each n=7, 28%), followed by the West (n=6, 24%), and the South (n=5, 20%). 2016 showed differences with the Midwest most represented (n=16, 28%), followed by the South (n=15, 26%), the Northeast (n=14, 25%), and the West region (n=11, 19%). Lastly, in 2021, the distribution shifts again, with the highest representation from the West region (n=13, 31%), then the Midwest (n=11, 26%), the South (n=10, 24%), and the Northeast (n=8, 19%). Representation geographically showed no noticeable trends, rather fluctuations between regions each year studied. While there is noticeable variety in the 3 years studied geographically, the most significant bias lies on the disproportion between males and females represented in the NSDA study section. Addressing the sex bias to represent a closer reflection of the country’s population is essential for a more equitable funding for research studies.